Photograph courtesy of Chris Fleet
“It’s about keeping something at bay in order to do what you want to do.” Gemma Fleet, bassist and vocalist with unique folk tinged indie band The Wharves, is referring to the title of the London based multinational band’s upcoming debut album, but independence and personal agency, and the obstacles to this autonomy, seems to be a pervading theme explored by the band. In their short history (the band has only been together a couple of years) Gemma, Dearbhlá Minogue (guitarist/vocalist) and Marion Andrau (drums) have delved into a hitherto unexplored realm of folk mixed psych rock without trepidation or regard for convention, creating a sound that is as unique as it is memorable. Their debut EP Side A, released in November of last year, laid the groundwork, but it is upcoming longplayer At Bay that truly sees the trio beginning to realise their ambition: music with no boundaries. In a word: freedom.
Personal agency is inextricably linked to this ideal and is a topic that pops up again and again in our correspondence. “I was thinking about the ‘grip’ our social and personal history has over us but how it is also what makes us who we are, ” responds Fleet when asked what inspired latest single “The Grip”. Essentially, the song asks the question: How free are we? As such, it is fitting that Fleet’s brother and father sing on the track as it explores how our history both confines us and creates us. Their inclusion a symbol of how we are, after all, defined by our families and our past; how we spend our lives both trying to escape, and embrace, our heritage and the ‘grip’ it has on us.
It’s a sentiment echoed when I tell the band that I feel their song, and first single gleaned from At Bay, “Renew” seems to be about the desire to just abandon everything and start again. Fleet agrees, “I was thinking about renewal as opposed to gentrification.” Tellingly, according to Fleet, the song takes its name from a scene in classic sci-fi flick Logan’s Run. “The people (in the film) get to 30 they are sacrificed in a giant death carousel. The audience is shouting ‘Renew! Renew! Renew!’” The concept of personal freedom vs. societal and cultural expectations is obviously quite clear. Even when asked how they would describe their sound, Fleet can’t resist promoting free thinking, “I’d say ‘get on the Google later, make up your own mind.’” There’s also something playful in this statement, which is echoed in Minogue’s statement that “The Grip” reminds her of a “sea chanty” as it was recorded on a boat.
Undoubtedly, the variety of backgrounds in the band is one aspect that makes this focus on freedom possible: Fleet is English, Minogue is Irish, and Andrau is French. They received very different introductions to music. Minogue states that, “My mum always played piano and my dad always sang folk songs. My extended family are very musical also,” while Fleet’s family, “Always had music in the house” but weren’t very musical in terms of performing.
Combined with this, all the members bring something different to the table as Fleet grew up loving “New Jack Swing and R&B as well as jungle and bass and jungle before a musical deluge experienced while working in a pub at eighteen: “The DJ’s at the pub played really good dance music, Chicago house type stuff. The pub was pivotal. One regular, an old punk, gave me a box of records they were getting rid of. It was Sioxsie, The Smiths, The Jam, Talking Heads, Echo and Bunnymen, Strawberry Switchblade and loads more.” In the meantime, Minogue was playing music with her friend Eoin: “We’d do Doors and Bob Dylan covers and, ahem, Damien Rice also. My favourite band was the Strokes.” This makes for quite a mix of influences, something clear from even a cursory listen to their records.
And ultimately that’s what the band is all about: freedom and the music. Unsurprisingly, they are reluctant to discuss their output in conventional, confining terms and focus on the creative process. Fleet states: “I dunno if ‘career’ is the right word. For me highlights have been a personal musical progression like nailing a hard harmony or bass riff. The feeling of that beats anything.” Minogue agrees: “Writing the stuff has been some of the most fun and hearing it come to life when we play it.” With the group halfway through writing a second album it is clear that they are eager to continue to pursue the goal of the band for the foreseeable future. Hopefully they’ll be able to keep their freedom intact and any untoward influences ‘at bay’.
At Bay was released on November 3rd via Gringo Records. Buy it here.